New dorm helps UI open doors to everyone

Published 03/18 2013 10:42PM

Updated 03/19 2013 10:32AM

CHAMPAIGN -- The UI is recognized as one of the best when it comes to accommodating people with disabilities and a new dorm is proof. Nugent Hall was revamped over the past few years and now stands as a shining example of how the university is open to everyone.

It's something one recent grad is proud to be a part of. Hitting the weights is nothing new for Robert Kozarek. The lifelong athlete was a star football player in high school until a car crash changed everything.

"I hydroplaned, and then I rolled off a bridge. Rolled my car five times off a bridge, ended up upside. I broke my neck, broke my face," he said.

With his football career over, Kozarek's priorities changed.

"We found out through research that UI was one of eight completely accessible universities in the nation, and that was a big influence on why I decided to come here," he added.

"The people who do the kind of work that we do on other institutions have just been decimated by budget cuts," said Dr. Brad Hedrick director of Disability Resources and Educational Services at UI.

He's thankful leaders here didn't slash his budget like others.

"I think we just need to look at Nugent Hall. It was built as a state-of-the-art facility during that period with amenities that do not exist at any other institutional facility," said Hedrick.

"I know some of the resources there and I've been in there and I've seen what they've done with it and it's amazing," said Kozarek.

He said the ramps and handicap doors help, but those additions are just the tip of the iceberg of his appreciation for UI.

"It actually is one of the best in the nation, and it's because of the people around here that make it possible."

Another factor keeping Kozarek around is the wheelchair racing program. It gave him an outlet for his passion in sports.

The UI is also known for its highly-talented wheelchair basketball team. Nugent Hall has gotten some national recognition as well.

The Paralyzed Veterans of America gave it the "Barrier Free America Award" last year. It recognizes people or places with outstanding design. Hedrick says UI was the first non-architectural firm to ever win the award.

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